Personality is a package of used “solutions” that you had better know about before you hire

“What exactly is personality?” I ask Mårten Runow. “Good question!” he says and I feel relief, because to ask the highest boss such a basic question, when I know he has dealt with it every day for more than 25 years, seems a bit elementary. “Personality is a word that we often use without even fully understanding it”, he continues. What is the real story regarding personality and its testing, according to the founder of Performia and expert in hiring and recruiting people for companies around the world?

One definition which Mårten considers very useful is this: “Personality is a package of ‘solutions’. Life for any individual consists of facing many different situations, including problems. Personality gives you an indicator of which type of solution is used to battle these different situations. Here is one example:

Two individuals are both rejected for a new job they wanted. One of them becomes sad for the next 3 weeks and hopes that someone will develop some sympathy for him and, out of pity, offer him a job, whereas in reality he loses the job he already has (because he stopped doing anything) while still not finding any new job. The other person decides immediately upon the rejection to apply for many more jobs, and two weeks later he has landed a new and even better opportunity. Same basic problem but two very different solutions are employed.” Through understanding personality, as Mårten is saying, we can find out who will use what solution, and that can help us decide who to hire for our team

“At the same time, I want to mention that a person’s solutions (and thus personality) might change over time through experiences, and thus personality is not a fixed condition but can actually change for the better (and sometimes for the worse) over time. Because when an individual finds a better solution to a problem he will normally stick to it”, Mårten adds.


Why is the EXEC U-TEST, a personality test that Performia provides as a tool for our clients, a common part of hiring and building teams nowadays, and why have you not been satisfied at headquarters with just checking productivity as a tool for hiring people?

“Because it adds another dimension to the exactness and usefulness with which you can do your hiring”, Mårten explains. “Personality, on the other hand, does not answer the question of who can really produce at a high level. This is confirmed by the fact that you can meet someone who is not necessarily the most rational or simple person to deal with, but contributes massively to the production, while you might meet someone who is very nice and polite but couldn’t accomplish anything really valuable”, adds the expert on building teams across companies around the world.

When we combine it with an analysis of productivity (which is by far the most important factor in hiring) we can then, thanks to the EXEC U-TEST, more easily understand how and in what style this person will work, and you as a manager will get the “manual” on how to effectively manage that person.


It is true that average personality scores can differ from one country to the next, and it is also true that the average score within a country can change over time. Performia actually follows this development internationally. What is interesting in relation to hiring is that the main characteristics and combinations for a person to be truly successful are very similar. For example, you might find that a successful Hungarian bookkeeper is a bit of a perfectionist, which happens to be the same as in Sweden or even China, as Mårten explains, and this is the reason why test questions are the same everywhere, and the results fit anyone independently of nationality or place of residence.

“Still, the average Russian profile might differ quite a lot from the average South African. You might have to look a bit harder to find really accurate and stable bookkeepers in Brazil than you have to do in Switzerland”, Marten says, speaking from experience.


If you know the EXEC U-TEST and you know that our clients evaluate the tests themselves, certainly you have asked yourself several times, ‘How is it possible that the EXEC U-TEST can be evaluated by people who have no psychological or other similar education?’ Mårten has a very simple answer for this: “Because the test is built on extremely logical principles that any bright business person can learn and understand if given the right instructions. Also, the system today gives the evaluator a lot of assistance, so that both the positive and negative aspects don’t go unnoticed”, says Mårten.

“And any person can ‘test the test’ by having people they know very well do the test and then compare the test results with ones own actual experience of those people. If the test results do not match your observations, our recommendation is to not use this system, as it will not be able to guide your decisions in the way you need and want. However, if the test results really do match your observations, it is then easier to trust the results when you test people you don’t know beforehand”, Mårten advises.


To lighten things up a bit, I ask Mårten if he could tell us his funniest experience while evaluating the EXEC U-TEST. “Even though there are many, one definitely stands out. It is about a client from Tel Aviv, who asked our consultant to evaluate the test of her “friend and her friend’s fiancé” to see how compatible they were as a couple, as they were about to get married. The consultant said: ‘He looks like a really simple and agreeable person, while she looks like she could drive a sphinx up a tree.’ The client then said that it happened to be her own test, and her future husband. They got married and, after 4 months, they got divorced because they were totally incompatible.”

You can encounter such stories when evaluating personality. I would summarize this with the words of Lucia Spáčilová: “Doing the test itself does not change a person, but finding out in black-and-white what you suspect, this can definitely be a turning point!”